Capture of Mladic as important as killing of Osama bin Laden

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The capture and arrest of Ratko Mladic, former Serbian Army Chief of Staff who personally led the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys in Srbrenica, has been appropriately compared to the recent killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Mladic, now 68, and described as in “frail heath,” was captured and arrested by Serbian police more than 15 years after he was indicted as a war criminal by the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal at the The Hague, to which he is expected soon to be extradited. Just as bin Laden was captured in the quiet town of Abbattobad, Pakistan, Mladic was captured in the small farming town of Lazarevo, a Serbian province north of Belgrade. And just as bin Laden was apparently protected from capture by pro-Al Qaeda and pro-Taliban elements of the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, so apparently was Mladic protected from capture by sympathetic pro-Serbian ultra-nationalists.

Martin Fletcher, longtime foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, and who himself is a Holocaust escapee, said in an interview with Brian Williams on “NBC Nightly News,” that Mladic can be compared to Adolf Hitler for having set into motion what has been officially labeled a “genocide” by the U.N. courts and panels charged with that responsibility.

By coincidence of timing, Mladic’s arrest comes just weeks after a German court in Munich convicted Ivan Demjanjuk, who was a Ukrainian collaborationist guard at a Nazi death camp, of crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of 30,000 Jews. Demjanjuk, a former Cleveland autoworker, is now 91 and in very frail health. Some have suggested that his age and infirmities should mitigate his sentence, which amounted to five additional years beyond time served. Neither Demjanjuk nor Mladic deserve any sympathy or leniency for their horrific war crimes based on their age or physical frailty, and we hope that Mladic will not be cut any slack on this account.

Last month, Holocaust survivor, novelist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, who was in town to address the graduating class at Washington University, was asked whether Demjanjuk’s age and health should be a factor mitigating his punishment. Wiesel, without hesitation, said he should have been given at least a life sentence in order to “send a message” that genocide is never acceptable. He added that he reserves his “compassion for the victims, not the perpetrators.”

St. Louis is home to 70,000 former Bosnians, believed to be the largest Diaspora community of Bosnians in the world. Nothing of course can bring “closure” to any of the families of the 8,000 Bosnian men and boys murdered by Mladic and his henchmen in 1995-just as nothing can ever bring “closure” to the families of the nearly 3,000 who died at bin Laden’s hands on Sept. 11, 2001. But the killing of bin Laden and the capture of Mladic mean that these war criminals have been brought to justice.

When Adolf Hitler took his own life in 1945, his face appeared on the cover of Time magazine with a bloody “X” smeared across it. Similar “Bloody X” covers appeared when Saddam Hussein and bin Laden were brought to justice. We trust that the cover artists at Time are keeping their red paint and brushes handy for the latest installment.

Once again, the Latin term used when a mass murderer is brought to justice is appropriate: “Sic semper tyrannus.” Be it ever thus to tyrants.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.